The Girls – Emma Cline. Debut novel.

The Girls – Emma Cline

The Girls
The Girls – Emma Cline, Front cover artwork

I first found out about this book when the author, Emma Cline was being interviewed on the Radio. She came across as very down to earth and relatable. Once I discovered that the book was loosely based on the true life events surrounding the Manson family, I knew I had to read ‘The Girls’. I have, like many others, had a morbid fascination with this subject for many years and find the psychology behind such heinous acts of violence to be intriguing. For a debut novel, it is a rather brave choice of subject matter, one which undoubtedly has a lot of back ground research readily available but which has been covered by so many fiction and non-fiction authors in the past, I’d be daunted by the task of competing. This, however, is where Emma Cline comes into her own, she does not compete, she goes for an altogether different approach.

Overview

The book as a whole and the story it tells is certainly a good one, a different perspective to any I’ve read or seen in the past, a complete view of the goings on but from the peripheral, from the perspective of a young girl drawn into the cult by the seduction of change and the attentions of a beautiful older girl.

This book is described as “A coming-of-age tale like no other…” by Grazia magazine and I have to admit, they’ve got something there. If I were to describe this book, that is exactly what I would say, but it is so much more than this, a coming-of-age and an acceptance-of-age is more accurate.  When we meet Evie she is well into adulthood, we don’t get told her exact age but as the book is supposed to be set in modern day California that would make Evie about 44 when she is telling the story. She is alone in a house and coming to terms with what has become of her life, what she has done, what she has achieved, what she has missed out on.

Emma Cline was born in the late 1980’s but this does not prevent her from painting a very believable picture of the summer of 1969. Perhaps the device of looking back is what makes it so easy to believe the setting of this book. The detailed descriptions in this book are limited to people and places, things that would still exist today or are a complete figment of Cline’s imagination. It allows for her to reference these places in a dream-like manner, memories being looked back upon rather than being experienced in real time. It is a great device for ensuring that the reader finds the plot and settings to be believable, and it certainly works here. Not once do I question how Cline knows what this place and time is like in spite of her young years.

My comments

At first, I struggled with some of the language, there were a couple of phrases early on which really threw me and tripped me up; this did rather surprise me as I am an avid reader with a very good grasp of the English language. After googling them (don’t judge me, we all turn to google sooner or later) I discovered that I was not the only person who struggled with a couple of the phases, perhaps these were local colloquialisms which are lost on anyone, not from North California.

Later on in the book, I found it hard to follow a couple of the passages, the switching between the present, in the moment and the past is blurred in some areas. I am usually a fan of this type of device in story telling but I did find there were some rather obvious mixings and muddling of the two timelines which made the story hard to follow. I feel like one of the first rules of story telling is not to confuse the reader, although perhaps I am being a little harsh as really all it did was to alienate me a little further at a point in the story where teenage angst and drama are going to be alienating to anyone not currently a teenager. We’ve all been through it but looking back on it is hard and painful for most of us, not something comfortable to do.

I really did find that a lot of the feelings and emotions which Cline focuses on in this book are familiar to me and I’m sure will be for many other readers. The idea of being attracted to someone of the same sex and struggling to overcome your own anxieties too, not only become friends but to increase your friendship with that person is a strong feeling felt by most of us at one time or another. Cline depicts these feelings in a very descriptive manner which really allows you to relate to the character of Evie.

Regardless of the fact that Evie is the center piece in this story, you can’t help but dislike her. At times she comes across a whiny and spoiled, she acts as if she is the injured party when really she makes her own luck and struggles to deal with the consequences of her decisions. Suzanne, another centerpiece is the ultimate anti hero; you find yourself drawn to her by the power of the images portrayed by Evie and yet you are aware from the beginning that there is something not quite right. She is sexual and sensual in ways that Evie has only dreamed of, but there is something deeper and darker. Cline writes her incredibly well, you find yourself missing her when Evie misses her and hating her when Evie does.

The Manson-like character is well written and it is through Evie’s descriptions that you see his flaws and humanity where others only see him as a deity to worship. It is Evie who sees through him and ensures that you, the reader, also see’s him as he really is.

If asked if I’d recommend this book, it would most definitely depend on who was asking. It is a brilliant book, well written with a great story, characters who are flawed and real but it’s really not a book for everyone. I believe that some people would struggle, not only with the subject matter but also with the intensity of the emotion experienced by the characters.

About the Author

Emma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and the Paris Review. She was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize for fiction and is a Granta Best Young American Novelist.

Book Description – Amazon

The bestselling debut that took 2016 by storm – a brilliant coming-of-age story with a dark heart: ‘This book will break your heart and blow your mind’ Lena Dunham

From the Inside page

California. The summer of 1969. In the dying days of a floundering counter-culture a young girl is unwittingly caught up in unthinkable violence, and a decision made at this moment, on the cusp of adulthood, will shape her life…”This book will break your heart and blow your mind.” (Lena Dunham). Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the center, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever? –This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

 

Reviews on Amazon

“A coming-of-age tale like no other … the book of the summer” (Grazia) – too true

“Stunning…thrilling… A spectacular achievement” (The Times)

“This book will break your heart and blow your mind” (Lena Dunham) – I’d agree with breaking your heart, it is an emotional, thought-provoking book which is highly relatable.

“The read of the summer” (India Knight Sunday Times)

“A tense and claustrophobic read” (Stylist) – most definitely. If you are not prepared for it then it can seriously take you by surprise, but I found the claustrophobic nature of this book to be part of its charm.

“Taut, beautiful and savage, Cline’s novel demands your attention” (Guardian) – agreed

“An exhilarating read” (Emma Healey, author of Elizabeth is Missing) – perhaps because of the stuttering way in which I read this book, I’m not sure that exhilarating is quite how I’d describe it

“Darker than anything Gone Girl had to offer” (Shortlist) – now this I do not agree with. Gone Girl is a brilliant book with many twists and turns. Both books are dark in their nature but the subject matter differs drastically and the darkness of ’The Girls’ seems to reside in the knowledge that this is not pure fiction but is based on actual events which occurred.

“A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story…spellbinding” (New York Times Book Review) – seductive it most certainly is.

“An intensely atmospheric story that perfectly captures the aching loneliness and longing of a teenage girl.” (Sarra Manning Red) – so much so. It left me dismally reminiscing about my adolescence and the angst and sadness which goes hand in hand with growing up.

“One of the best novels I’ve read about female adolescence… And as with so many novels about cults, The Girls is set to inspire a cultish devotion all of its own” (Evening Standard) – by far one of the best I’ve read.

“A joy to read… Intense, clever, beautiful” (Sunday Times)

“Brimming with intelligence and ideas… Buy it for the Mansonesque plot but savour it for its insights” (Irish Times) – many a true word. This is exactly how I came across it and exactly how it became one of my favourite reads in a year or so.

“I don’t know which is more amazing, Emma Cline’s understanding of human beings or her mastery of language.” (Mark Haddon) – her understanding of human beings is incredible. Her depiction of the emotions and subtleties is sublime.

Overall score

4/5

Would certainly recommend. In fact, it is already being lent out and I have several friends waiting to read it. Somewhat slow-paced but perfect for a summers afternoon reading in the garden with a nice cup of tea and a digestive or two.

Night School – 21st Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child Review

Night School – Lee Child

Night School – Jack Reacher, Lee Child

This book has been hailed as the ‘best Jack Reacher yet’ which is a very high accolade indeed. Night School is the 21st novel in the Jack Reacher series; all be it a prequel set in 1996 when Reacher is just 35 years of age.

I’m not going to lie to you; it is a good one. A book I enjoyed immensely. Easy to pick up and read anywhere, anytime.

Lee Child is a master at working in time limits to his work, and this book is no different, in fact, Child sets the timer running at the beginning of the novel. Admittedly we, the reader do not know the time limit but then neither do Reacher or the team he is working with, and this adds immensely to the drama and allows for a fast paced, action packed novel, all be it one with intricate levels of detail.

Outline

Reacher, fresh from a medal winning mission, is sent back to school. But in true Jack Reacher style this is no ordinary school, set in 1996, Night school harks back to the pre 9/11 days when intelligence agencies in the US were suspicious of each other and cooperation was at an all time low. Add to that their deep rooted suspicion of every other country and their intelligence agencies.  There was none of this inter-agency coordination or cooperation, and Reacher has to cross these lines and force cooperation both inter-organisationally and internationally in order to deal with the threat of weapons falling into the wrong hands in a foreign country.

My comments

By novel 21, you would expect Child to have a greater understanding of the inner workings of his character, and this book does not disappoint, I’m almost jealous of the relationship that Child has with Reacher, it’s as though Reacher writes himself. Not once do you question the authenticity of a response or a reaction, nor do you question his motive. You believe that Reacher is a real man whom Child knows and who has recounted his story to be laid bare on the page, in a way it’s as if Reacher guides Child through the story and not the other way around.

I find that all good Reacher stories are just a ‘day in the life’ kind of view of his life. Night School is no different; although the events which unfold are the workings of a great Thriller or Action movie, not once do you question why and how these things are happening to him. Child’s natural way with language and the familiarity with the character make this story completely believable, in spite of the sometimes crazy situations which the character gets himself into, and makes this book a delight to read.

And don’t worry if you haven’t read any of Lee Child’s previous work; each Jack Reacher book can be read alone. Sure it helps to know Reacher’s motivation in certain scenarios, but Child keeps the back story references to a minimum and fully explains to the reader any elements that may be relevant and necessary to know, as and when they occur. I myself have only read 3 of the 21 in this series, but would not shy away from picking up any of those 21 books and reading them out of order. It is a testament to Child’s talent that he can not only produce a massively successful series of books, of which two have been made into successful blockbusters; also that he does not isolate his audience by assuming pre-knowledge of the character.

Reacher 2012

Reacher – Never go back 

Blurb

It’s just a voice plucked from the air: ‘The American wants a hundred million dollars.’

For what? Who from? It’s 1996, and the Soviets are long gone. But now there’s a new enemy. In an apartment in Hamburg, a group of smartly dressed young Saudis are planning something big.

Jack Reacher is fresh off a secret mission. The army pats him on the back and gives him a medal. And then they send him back to school. A school with only three students: Reacher, an FBI agent, and a CIA analyst. Their assignment? To find that American. And what he’s selling.

Night School takes Reacher back to his army days, but this time he’s not in uniform. With trusted sergeant Frances Neagley at his side, he must carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, in a wired, fiendishly clever new adventure that will make the cold sweat trickle down your spine.

Of course, it is Reacher who excels at school and makes headway in uncovering the plot and bringing down the bad guy. While the others get bogged down in bureaucracy, it is Reacher’s forward planning and ‘thinking outside the box’ which saves the day, with of course a little help from his friends and fellow class mates.  Come on you knew it was going to end well, no spoilers there.

My version of the book also included the first three chapters of ‘The Midnight Line’ due out November 2017, and I have to say, I’m hooked already. It is already on my pre-order list, just in time for Christmas.

As well as a short essay by Child himself, which I have to say I found very sobering after the excitement of the last few chapters of the book. A poignant message about story telling and fiction through the ages.

Other reviews

Although I quite liked this book and would recommend as an easy read for anyone looking for a bit of action in their literature, since finishing the book, I have read several scathing reviews, many from uber-fans of Child’s work. Perhaps where it appealed to me, it ostracised some of his avid fans. There was one particular comment which I did want to point out though:

“I have the feeling that this book was written with American(USA) readers in mind as there are many instances of American rubbing in Germany’s defeat in WW and belittling them. I am neither from Germany nor USA, but I still feel it wasn’t on [the] comfortable side of nationalism.”

[Source]

I’m not going to lie; the guy does have a point here. Being British and so not really overtly represented in the cast list for this book, and also perhaps because I read an awful lot of American authors and so don’t find this level of patriotism to be unfamiliar; I wasn’t really affected by this over patriotism to the USA. However, after reading this review and looking back, I can certainly see what he means. The Germans are portrayed in a rather sinister light at points with their ‘smarts’ being undermined at every turn (well almost every turn). Strange though that this level of patriotism to the USA be so vivid as Lee Child himself in actually British, all be it now living in America, perhaps Reacher’s voice was a little too loud for Child to ignore on this point.

My verdict

Overall score: 3.5/5

I would recommend as a good read. Pick up and put down anywhere anytime. It was my ‘read in the bath’ novel of the month. No scary house ‘breaking and entering’ scenes so safe to read alone. Fast paced so easy to glide from chapter to chapter and lose yourself for a few hours of self-indulgence. Not a great work of art but a well-orchestrated story and character development. A good plot which seemed to be quite water tight. A little over patriotic to the USA but hey it’s a book about US military, there was bound to be a bit of peacocking going on.

Female authors are taking over… or are they?

Sexism in the publishing industry – Is the shoe on the other foot in today’s market?

 

It has long been believed that people prefer to read books by authors of the same sex as them – I call bullshit! I for one am not drawn to female authors. In fact in most cases, unless the author is known to me, or it is a true life work in which it is relevant, their gender doesn’t really come into it. Perhaps I am unusual in this, but honestly, the blurb is more likely to get my mouth watering for a book than the name or gender of the author.

Recently, it has been revealed that publishers are changing or disguising the names of their male authors to increase sales. It is believed that women will only read novels by other women, and as women apparently read more than men, we are therefore the new demographic for publishing houses. I am not debating that women read more than men, perhaps we write more too? But I think that these studies are not really giving the reader enough credit.

According to one source:

“…80% of a new female author’s audience is likely to be female.”

Now, the inner feminist in me is giving a little cheer at this news,  it was said on the radio that the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Mary Anne Evans (George Eliot as she is more commonly known) would be looking down and rejoicing, i don’t disagree. Long gone are the days where these women and the likes of JK Rowling and EL James have to change their names to be taken seriously as an author (although taking E L James seriously would be hard no matter what gender she were).

Ignoring my inner feminist for a few minutes (she can be pretty loud and opinionated, so this can be rather difficult) I actually disagree with this trend completely. I do not pick books based on author gender, race, sexual orientation, upbringing, day job etc. I’ve read a Jeffrey Archer book for goodness sake, he couldn’t be further from what I consider to be my author demographic, or in fact ethical beliefs. I often read books without knowing or being affected by authors gender and in fact a lot of the time I won’t even know if they are male or female whilst reading their work. True, sometimes it is obvious from writing style or how the author relates their male or female protagonist, but often times it is impossible to tell.

I once read an article in a newspaper by a black female author, I was really enjoying the article until she started moaning about the fact that being a woman and a woman of colour at that, really put people off of reading her work. Until that point I was unaware of her gender or race and was merely enjoying her writing style, as soon as she stated who she was, my whole view of her writing changed and suddenly what began as a general comment on society became a much more direct point about racism and sexism. It did change the tone of what she was saying, but merely added the ‘woe is me’ tone, which then did in fact put me off, not because she was a woman or black, merely because, until that point it had been irrelevant to the piece and actually to the point she was trying to make. Although I understand where this woman was coming from, there are a lot of people out there who still harbour sexist or racist tendencies, I feel that if your writing is good enough, it will speak for itself, no one will look into your gender, race, upbringing or sexual orientation, it is irrelevant.

A prime example of this is Zadie Smith, at one point she was the youngest author to ever get a best seller. Being female, and a woman of colour did not stop her because her writing spoke for itself; her style was good, her story telling brilliant and therefore she was successful.

It took me years to find out JK Rowlings first name (it’s Joanne by the way) and once I knew it, it had no bearing what-so-ever on what I thought of her work, before or after I knew she was a woman. I still think the first book is rubbish, all be it a necessary starting point with a good story, but shabby writing (perhaps a little unfair, it was for kids after all and her first book none the less) and I still think that the last three are excellent and helped to cement her place, not only as a great children’s author but as a great literary author full stop. For all I care she could have been a bright green alien with twenty tentacles from the planet Zog, it would still not affect how I felt about the writing.

The new research shows that women prefer overall to read books written by other women, with the exception of course of some of the more popular and famous male authors. Now I’m sure this could be considered the case with romance novels such as the Mills and Boon series, but as for general literature, I’m not convinced. Apparently it is so much the case that publishers are having to use their male authors initials rather than their full names to keep sales up. Seems like the shoe is on the other foot now boys.

Don’t judge a book by the cover? We all do. My advice however would be this:

Don’t judge a book by the authors name!

As I was doing my research for this blog post, making sure my information was accurate and I wasn’t mis-quoting someone or some piece of information, it became apparent how, although we will feel sympathy and as a woman empathy for these male authors struggling to find their way in this apparent ‘women over-run’ world publishing, it really is hard to take it that seriously. Upon googling ‘sexism in the publishing industry’ it was apparent that still one in six (approx.) articles are about discrimination against female authors.

I also came across an entire organisation set up to help women in the publishing industry:

http://www.vidaweb.org

That being said, a lot of the men who are apparently experiencing issues in the area of sales, say that they are doing so because their work is not taken seriously if their protagonist is female but their book is published under a male name. Would that this were the case back in the days of Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte when strong female characters would have been ignored if written by a woman. Now although I still feel that this is not giving enough credit to the reader, I can see how this makes more sense than merely the fact that the author being male begin a complete turn off.

A prime example of this is the Mills and Boon author section of their website. Of the 114 authors in the A section of their site (this is a company for whom the term ‘pulp fiction’ was penned) I found 5 authors with a male only names. Now there are also a further 12 who have ambiguous or initials only, so perhaps these are also male authors. That still leaves 97 with female names, and really who knows if these are male or female truly. So in genre’s such as this, the theory is alive and well. Women prefer female authors. Or perhaps, more women want to write Mills and Boon style books. Who’s to say?

I conclude this post with a  final thought on the matter… If the market is so biased and we, the reader, are given so little credit as to look past the gender of the author, then perhaps the answer is to use the initials of all authors rather than gender specific names eg.

S King, C Cowell, J Patterson, P Cornwell, M Connolly, J Picoult, R Dahl, D Walliams, J Archer, T Gerritsen, S Lewis, S O’Flanagan etc.

Take away all gender discrimination entirely.